Several years ago, we covered a case in which a federal district court granted a Pennsylvania man a new trial because prosecutors failed to turn over police records relating to one of their key witnesses. It seems the witness in question had a lengthy history of being investigated by the police but—somehow—avoiding arrest. The defense argued that, had the information been properly disclosed before trial, the defense could have revealed the witness was a willing government informant who cooperated with law enforcement to gain favor and avert his own legal troubles. The district court agreed, granting Mr. Shawnfatee Bridges a new trial.
Earlier this year, the Third Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling. The current District Attorney for the County of Berks, John T. Adams, was elected in 2008. Because Adams had previously represented a co-defendant, the state attorney general’s office took over the Bridges case. The AG has attempted to downplay the problematic behavior of Adams’s predecessor in Berks County, former longtime DA Mark Baldwin, who tried the case in the late 1990s. (Somewhat ironically, Adams had the support of law enforcement when he unseated Baldwin, although it was Baldwin in the Bridges case who sat on the police reports that should have been turned over.) The Commonwealth’s arguments did not persuade the court of appeals, which, like it has in recent years, issued a careful Brady analysis. The court’s work here echoes that of the Fourth Circuit in Juniper.
In addition to affirming the new trial order, the Third Circuit ordered the Commonwealth to remove Mr. Bridges from death row as he awaits his retrial.